Having flown for the first time on June 15 last year, Saab’s Gripen E prototype (aircraft 39-8) is on course with its flight-test campaign, and earlier this month began flying with weapons and stores pylons. The aircraft carried Iris-T air-to-air missiles on its wingtips, with four Ruag Aerostructures-supplied underwing pylons, and a fifth on the centerline. The successful test paves the way for further external stores trials to be conducted as the aircraft prepares for service entry next year.
While aircraft 39-8 is primarily tasked with aerodynamic and aircraft systems tests, the next two Gripen E test aircraft—39-9 and 39-10—will be mainly devoted to systems trials, gaining features such as electronic warfare system, Link 16 data link, and Leonardo ES-05 Raven AESA radar. The latter is currently flying in 39-7, a two-seat Gripen that was originally converted to serve as a technology demonstrator and is now supporting trials. 39-9 and 39-10 are scheduled to fly “very soon,” according to Jonas Hjelm, Saab’s senior v-p of aeronautics.
Both 39-9 and 39-10 will have many new systems installed, including computers. That the systems have been updated from those of 38-8 so quickly highlights a crucial feature of the Gripen E’s system architecture, which employs an innovative segregated avionics approach that allows non-flight-critical systems to be upgraded without affecting flight-critical functions. This permits rapid integration and validation of new components and capabilities without the need for lengthy recertification testing, in turn reducing development and upgrade times to what Hjelm called “days and weeks, rather than months and years."
This approach has been adopted to maintain the relevance of the Gripen E throughout its lifetime, permitting upgrades to be applied as they become necessary due to threat advances and operational requirements. It also significantly accelerates the initial development process.
Other advances that have been made with regard to the program include the opening in May of Saab Aeronáutica Montagens at São Bernardo do Campo in Brazil, a facility that will make components for all Gripens, and perform most of the work on the 36 aircraft ordered by Brazil. The Gripen Design and Development Center at Embraer’s assembly/flight test facility at Gavião Peixoto has also been opened. There, 120 engineers—mostly Brazilians—are mainly working on the Gripen F two-seater, which is now nearing preliminary design review as part of a joint Saab/Embraer/Akaer development program. The two-seater is being developed with a decoupled aft cockpit so that it can be used for various missions, in addition to conversion training.
The Brazilian industry is playing a major part in development and manufacture of the Gripen E/F. The first 48- by 20-cm (19- by 8-inches) wide-area display from Elbit’s Brazilian subsidiary AEL has been delivered to Saab in Sweden. AEL has also delivered a binocular helmet-mounted display for integration in the Gripen E trials simulator.